One of the seven men accused of defrauding Dunedin-based vehicle finance company MTF has been sentenced to 100 hours' community service.

Steward Travis Saunders pleaded guilty to one charge of illegally obtaining funds for personal gain and was sentenced in the Auckland District Court last week.

He is one of seven the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has charged with defrauding MTF.

According to the SFO the group "colluded together" to defraud the company and face a total of 110 Crimes Act charges.


One of the seven men involved, former MTF car dealer and franchisee Mark James Whelan, faces 25 individual charges and 41 joint charges of obtaining by deception.

It is alleged that while in those positions between July 2005 and February 2009, Whelan wrote a number of loans in the names of family, friends and associates using various non-existent assets as security. He is accused of gaining loans of $4.9 million and using the funds for personal gain.

This included purchasing land, servicing debt and investing in a futures trading scheme. In 2009 these loans went into default.

On Thursday, the court heard that Saunders refinanced a loan with MTF in March 2008 using as security a boat he knew did not exist. With interest the total amount Saunders now owes MTF is around $135,000.

SFO lawyer Todd Simmonds said that because of Saunders' experience in the finance industry, the offender was aware of what he was doing.

"It's far from trivial. This is intentional offending and gives rise to a very significant loss [for] the victim company," Simmonds said.

During the proceedings, Saunders appeared visibly distressed and was handed tissues by court staff to wipe his eyes and face.

Counsel for the defence Jim Boyack said Saunders' offending occurred when he was experiencing financial hardship and struggling to pay back debts.


Boyack told the court that if Saunders was convicted, the "consequences would be catastrophic" as the offender would lose his job and go bankrupt. The defence requested a discharge without conviction.

However, this was dismissed by Judge Philippa Cunningham, who said these consequences were not out of proportion with the offending.

"He would have known exactly what he was doing ... these are consequences he is going to have to suffer," she said.

After giving Saunders a discount for previous good character, remorse and family circumstances, Judge Cunningham sentenced him to 100 hours' community work.

Another of the seven, Clark Anthony Lewis, admitted nine charges of illegally obtaining funds for personal gain and was sentenced to eight months' home detention in December.

Four other accused - Whelan, Karl Sean Toussaint, Jonathan Earle Chiswell, and Brett Royce Donaldson - have pleaded not guilty and are due to appear in the Auckland District Court this month. Another of the alleged offenders, Richard Barnett, has not yet entered a plea.